The B.C. Liberal government's drive to make over Burnaby Hospital was concocted by a trio of party operatives in an effort to unseat an NDP MLA, prop up a potential B.C. Liberal candidate and win votes in other key ridings, a newly leaked document reveals.
The three B.C. Liberal Party organizers sent a letter to government staff late last year outlining a step-by-step strategy on how to use the hospital issue in Burnaby for maximum political gain.
"Only Burnaby Hospital can deliver a new seat, (Burnaby) Deer Lake, taking out (NDP MLA Kathy) Corrigan and helping us win two tight (swing ridings)," read the three-page letter, which was obtained by the NDP and provided to The Vancouver Sun.
The letter outlined an elaborate strategy referencing expected moves on the hospital issue by MLA Corrigan, her husband Derek, the mayor of Burnaby, and Kathy's sister, who is a doctor at the hospital.
"If Cathy (sic) and Derek Corrigan act first we will lose this issue and never get it back. Anything we do at that point will be seen as reacting to the efforts of Cathy Corrigan."
Moves by the B.C. Liberal government since that time show the strategy appears to have been followed precisely, including an announcement in April by then health minister Mike de Jong about a planning process for the hospital.
"In my mind, it just explains why this government has no credibility, and why that credibility is so shot with the public," NDP health critic Mike Farnworth said Thursday.
"When governments make decisions around infrastructure, it should be on the basis of good solid public policy, not on the basis of, 'let's determine whether or not it's a winning issue.'"
The letter was written by Pamela Gardner, who has served as a B.C. Liberal Party riding president in Burnaby-Edmonds; Brian Bonney, who for five years worked as the party's director of operations and now works within government as a communications director; and Mark Robertson, the B.C. Liberal Party's director of field operations.
The authors said they believe conditions in Burnaby Hospital are "much poorer" than any other in B.C., adding that on two floors "the stench of stale urine is extremely strong."
The letter advised that Premier Christy Clark and others in government should announce "ASAP" an intention to rebuild Burnaby Hospital, even if they aren't able to make a firm commitment on any details.
"This would keep the issue ours without committing $$ and buy us time to do some polling and confirm this is a winning issue," read the letter.
The letter also advised Clark to launch a community consultation committee on the hospital, which the authors said should be led by Gardner as chair. They also suggested that potential B.C. Liberal candidates Dr. David Yap, or Jeff Kuah - neither of whom have publicly announced plans to run - be included on the committee. Yap is an emergency room doctor at the hospital.
"(Clark) was born in the hospital. A (Clark) government delivering this will dramatically help our chances in Deer Lake where the hospital resides," said the letter, which made multiple references to the fact Clark was born in the hospital.
"However, this hospital is an icon with all of Burnaby and it will surely help us re-win (Burnaby) North and (Burnaby) Lougheed too," it continued.
"Once more, if we can introduce a second-generation Chinese doctor candidate for Burnaby Deer Lake, to champion this issue, it would help us seal the deal."
On April 27 - roughly four months after the letter appears to have been written - the B.C. Liberal government announced a "high-level master-planning process for Burnaby Hospital to develop a clear vision for the expansion, improvement and delivery of health services at Burnaby Hospital."
On the same day, the Burnaby Hospital Community Consultation Committee was announced, chaired by Gardner, and including Yap.
Farnworth said that shows the process was purely political, and criticized the letter's suggestion that the decision be made on the basis of polling.
"Frankly, I think it's a disgraceful way to do public policy," he said, adding that he wonders whether the government would abandon the hospital issue if it did not poll as a "winning issue."
"Fraser Health should be leading it (the consultation), the ministry should be leading it, not a committee that's getting its marching orders and has been designed by a bunch of Liberal hacks to make the government look good and to win a seat."
Minister of Health Margaret MacDiarmid said she had not seen the letter until Thursday, adding the relevant announcements at the hospital took place under the former health minister.
Nonetheless, MacDiarmid said she was not concerned by what she saw.
"We have strong supporters in Burnaby who at the same time as they are really supportive of us, they also really want this hospital redeveloped," she said.
"People are passionate. They're passionate about their politics and they're passionate about their hospital," she said, adding that passion will have no impact on the final decision at Burnaby Hospital.
"In spite of how passionate our supporters are, that does not impact on how decisions are made about hospital capital," she said.
"Hospital planning will happen through the Fraser Health Authority and with the capital people in the ministry and in Treasury Board," she continued.
"That is not a political process. We're guided by experts."
A B.C. Liberal Party spokesman said neither Robertson nor the party would comment on the matter, and Bonney did not return a call for comment.
In an email, Gardner said she is "very proud of the 100s of volunteer hours I and the committee members put into this process."
Gardner added she believes the soon-to-be complete final report from her consultation committee "will speak for itself."